Tens of thousands of Poles protest government's media reforms

Opposition groups massed in demonstrations across Poland Saturday, enraged by the new government's efforts to exert its influence on the nation's media supervisor and top courts.

"Now is the time we have to take to the streets," said one older demonstrator in Warsaw. "We already had centrally controlled television once in this country."

The protests organized by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) drew about 20,000 people in Warsaw, with other gatherings reported nationwide. Many waved signs with slogans such as "Hands off our radio" and "The government is lying."

"If journalists cannot keep an eye on the powerful, then people will not know what the government is up to," KOD leader Mateusz Kijowski told a rally in the central Polish city of Lodz.

The new conservative government, which took power in November, has enraged portions of the population with the new measures, which give newly installed conservative judges a greater say on the nation's highest court and lets the government install a political appointee to head public broadcasters.

The government has said the media law is necessary, since state media became too biased during the eight years before the new administration took over. However, opponents say officials from the the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) routinely boycotted media programmes and did not respond to invitations.

"The demands of the [KOD] have nothing to do with reality," said Treasury Minister Dawid Jackiewicz, a PiS politician. "The people who march down on the street didn't see that the public media was in the hands of a political group."

The new media law went into effect Friday, with a variety of new officials named almost immediately. A new head of the public broadcasting agency is set to be named Monday.

Poland has come under sharp criticism from the European Union over its implementation of the new media law.

At a meeting in Brussels Friday, Poland's European Affairs Minister Konrad Szymanski sought to de-escalate the spat with the EU amid rumours of potential disciplinary action.

Last update: Sat, 09/01/2016 - 18:39

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